MATSUYAMA, EHIME PREF. – Bonsai growers in western Japan are trying to boost exports of a tree known as the “queen of bonsai” for the elegance of its leaves and trunk, mainly to Europe, to establish a global brand and revitalize the regional economy.
In August, 12 suppliers in Shikokuchuo, Ehime Prefecture, launched a group to promote overseas shipments of the akaishi goyōmatsu tree, which is native to the 1,706-meter Mount Higashiakaishi in the prefecture and suitable for bonsai.
The group, led by local grower and seller Junichi Moritaka, 60, who personally began bonsai exports to France in 2017, aims to start collective overseas shipments of the tree in around January and achieve annual sales of some 1,000 pots, worth more than ¥30 million ($278,000), by 2022.
Moritaka’s company, Akaishi no Izumi, will directly purchase the queen of bonsai trees from member suppliers and ship them altogether in containers.
For the past decade, he has set his eyes on wealthy European bonsai fans and prepared for exports of the local tree by taking measures to pass quarantines and exchanging information with buyers.
In 2017, Moritaka managed to sell around 200 pots to France for about ¥3 million in total.
Japan’s overall bonsai and garden tree exports have steadily risen in recent years and stood at about ¥8 billion in 2016, according to government data.
Its popularity overseas was well demonstrated at the World Bonsai Convention held in Saitama Prefecture in 2017, with participants from 40 countries and regions. The event featured demonstrations by bonsai artists and drew some 45,000 visitors.
Moritaka recalls many foreign bonsai buyers visited his hometown when he was an elementary school student. Fifty years on, the former bustling community has been lost with the dwindling number of suppliers, due mainly to aging.
With a sense of crisis, Moritaka has spearheaded bonsai export promotion efforts, being aware that the local community should not just wait for buyers.
“Europe has a good eye for bonsai and evaluates quality of the trees honestly,” he said. “I want to revive the region by making the akaishi goyōmatsu a global brand.”